"If your memory is everything that you know written in a book, then in order to have access, you have to open the book and to turn the pages," Graff said. In Alzheimer's, "this mechanism actually closes your memory book and makes the pages -- the genes -- inaccessible."
The good news is that this latest research suggests that the "blockade" is potentially reversible, Graff said. In other words, the book hasn't been destroyed. "We are proposing to reopen the book and allow it to be more easily read," he said.
There are caveats to the research, said Dr. Brad Dickerson, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
"This is a very early basic science study in mice and requires substantial additional investigation in order to determine whether it is worth pursuing in patients," he said. "The leap from animal studies to human clinical trials is a big one and always takes many years. Drugs in this class are being studied in various types of cancer, which hopefully will provide an indication of their side effects and other important information about how feasible it would be to give these types of medications to patients with Alzheimer's disease if further studies support the potential value of this approach."
Research like this is important, Dickerson added, because "we need studies like this in animals to begin to prove the concept that new drugs of this sort have potential."
The study, which was funded by NINDS, appeared online Feb. 29 in the journal Nature.
For more about Alzheimer's disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Johannes Graff, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; Brad Dickerson, M.D., associate professor, neurology, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Feb. 29, 2012, Nature
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